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Food & Drink

Caviar, kimchi and cotton candy: San Francisco’s strangest, most expensive cocktails

Hog Island Oyster Co.'s Merroir Martini comes with an oyster on the side. | Source: Courtesy Hog Island Oyster Co.

As a well-known foodie and nightlife paradise, San Francisco has no shortage of extravagant food and beverages—or insanely themed bars. Whether you’re in the mood for an alcoholic Girl Scout cookie or simply for dropping as much on one drink as you’d ordinarily spend on a pair of designer jeans—this city probably has what you crave. 

Cocktail menus, like the seasons, are ever-changing.   

Here are a handful of stand-out libations currently being mixed or shaken at watering holes in or near San Francisco.

The Merrior Martini

🍸 Hog Island Oyster Co. 
📍 Ferry Building | Marin Country Mart, Larkspur 

Hog Island Oyster Co.'s Merroir Martini comes with smoked trout roe cradled in a lemon peel. | Source: Courtesy Hog Island Oyster Co.

This nautical concoction from the minds of Hog Island Oyster Co. costs twice as much as your average cocktail ($30) but also comes as an appetizer and a drink in one, with an oyster and a spoonful of smoked trout roe delicately set upon a lemon rind. Pulling inspiration and additional ingredients from the Pacific, the cocktail blends Gray Whale gin, vermouth and aperitifs with lemon oil and nori seaweed foraged from Tomales Bay and kina, a sea urchin endemic to New Zealand. Order one at Hog Island’s Ferry Building or Marin Country Mart locations. 

Karl the Fog Cocktail 

🍸 Orafo at the Four Seasons Embarcadero 

The Karl the Fog Cocktail at Orafo is an ode to the iconic nickname for San Francisco’s haze and is ignited by a blowtorch, which creates a dramatic, moody maplewood smoke effect resembling the city's perennial fog. | Source: Gamma Nine

San Francisco’s famous fog has stopped many a tourist in her tracks, and so too can this cocktail named for the city’s signature weather phenomenon. The Four Seasons Embarcadero mixes its Karl the Fog Cocktail with Hennessy VSOP, Santa Teresa 1796 rum, Heering cherry liqueur, Zucca amaro and crème de noyaux. For a dramatic tableside finish, a smoker is placed on top of the glass and ignited with a blowtorch, creating a dramatic and moody layer of maplewood smoke resembling San Francisco’s perennial marine layer, infusing the drink with smokey notes. It’ll warm you right up.

Kimchi Cocktail 

🍸 Causwells 

Kimchi may not be the first ingredient that comes to mind when you think “cocktail,” but Causwells in the Marina has concocted its latest wacky drink creation around Korea’s favorite salty, spicy fermented cabbage dish. To translate the flavors of kimchi—ginger, garlic, chili, and seasonal fruits and veggies—Causwells’ Beverage Director and Managing Partner Elmer Mejicanos made a shrub using pears, shishito peppers and cucumbers. Mezcal pays homage to the smoky flavors of Korean barbecue, and Thai bitters finish out the recipe. The glass comes garnished with a spicy salt rim, or “Kimchi tajin” as Mejicanos calls it, which sticks to the glass thanks to a tart syrup of lacto-fermented raspberries. 

Causwells is also debuting an old-fashioned that’s like baklava in a glass and a French-inspired martini with blue cheese-infused Tito’s vodka. 

Corn Cob Smash 

🍸 Miller & Lux 

While some of these gimmicky drinks might seem downright corny, we have a feeling the TikTok corn kid would approve of this particular libation–if he were old enough to drink.

Miller & Lux's Corn Cob Smash is made with milk washed corn roasted bourbon, roasted corn maple syrup, sweet corn extract and licor de elote. | Source: Courtesy of Miller & Lux

Steakhouse Miller & Lux offers the equivalent of liquid corn on the cob with this beverage made from milk washed roasted corn bourbon, roasted corn maple syrup,  sweet corn extract and licor de elote (yup, corn liqueur). The upside is you won’t have to worry about kernels getting stuck in your teeth.  

Snow Queen 

🍸 Son & Garden’s Secret Lounge 

Son & Garden’s Secret Lounge just a stone's throw away from the popular brunch restaurant has no shortage of whimsical cocktails perfect for posting on Instagram. One is topped with cotton candy. Or you can sip hibiscus liqueur and sparkling wine from a bird-shaped vessel. But the most decadent of them all is the $32 Snow Queen, a “specialty cocktail”-slash-dessert served with Korean-style bingsu shaved ice served in an ornate metal bowl along with Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, Sunora Pineapple Colada rum, pineapple juice, candied bacon and a dash of 24k gold, according to the menu. It’s a bargain, really. 

Empress Martini 

🍸 Empress by Boon

The newly minted, three-figure martini from high-end Cantonese restaurant Empress by Boon is priced for tech—or real-life—royalty. 

Empress by Boon's Empress Martini is a $150 cocktail made tableside with Nolet’s Reserve Gin, La Quintinye extra dry vermouth and umami bitters. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

While the martini only has three ingredients, one of them—a rare yellowish gin infused with saffron—is more valuable than gold. The mixture tastes like “buttery gold,” writes The Standard’s Julie Zigoris, with notes of umami and ramen broth. At $150 a pop, the Empress is allegedly nowhere near the city’s most expensive cocktail, and sommelier Dylan Dasher reports that they’re selling at a relatively brisk pace, with one table ordering three of them on a recent Wednesday night.  

The beverage is made tableside on a rolling cart complete with crystal decanters and golden bar tools.   

Fancy Mocktails

🍸 Sons & Daughters

🍸 Lazy Bear

Even if you don’t imbibe, you, too, can go broke ordering drinks. 

Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters, the “Nob Hill jewel box” known for its minimalist Nordic-style cuisine, offers a $115 menu of nine “house-made non-alcoholic beverages” to pair with its $229 tasting menu. A coriander shrub with white and purple currants comes with a filet of cured halibut; a chilled tomato tea seasoned with honey and lemon zest arrives with a plate of tomatoes, white asparagus and Hosui pears; and beetroot juice with blackberries smoked over applewood is delivered with Umpqua Valley lamb.  

Each drink is designed to complement a corresponding dish on the menu, explained Sons & Daughters General Manager George Cole, but two are available by the glass, including a blend of “juiced green apples with Douglas fir” and an elixir of juiced grilled cherries from K&J Orchards with torched rosemary and peppercorns, if you prefer to go the à la carte route. 

Lazy Bear's Apple & Mushroom mocktail is made with apple cordial and an assortment of mushrooms such as candy caps and porcinis. | Source: Courtesy Lazy Bear

Hunting lodge-themed Lazy Bear has also created an apple-and-mushroom mocktail to go with the savory portion of its tasting menu and duck courses. While the beverage won’t get you buzzed, it does tap into the Bay Area’s love affair with shrooms of all kinds. The drink is made from a cold-brewed tea made from dried porcinis and leftover apple skins fermented into a fruity syrup similar to a Korean cheong. A torched sprig of wild incense cedar garnishes the glass, which bears an ice cube imprinted with the restaurant’s eponymous mascot.